Video: Esther Rantzen urges GPs to help older, lonely patients

Broadcaster and campaigner Esther Rantzen has asked GPs to consider promoting her new charity to older patients who might be suffering from loneliness.

Silverline, a helpline and befriending service for older people, is being piloted in November and December with a view to being rolled out next year.

Ms Rantzen, who is the founder of young people’s service Childline, cited an Age UK survey that found 66 per cent of people over the age of 65 were lonely.

GPs were well placed to help spread the word about Silverline, she said.

As well as putting posters on their noticeboards in waiting rooms, Ms Rantzen said doctors could consider flagging up the service to some patients in consultations.

‘I know all about the time pressures that you face.  But you might have the time to ask a different type of diagnostic question: would it help to speak to a Silverline friend?’ she said.

The aim of the charity will be to signpost callers to existing services in their locality.

Ms Rantzen said that the older persons’ sector was fragmented and often failed to promote services effectively.

‘I think it’s because it’s a Cinderella service and funding is scarce so charities are competitive,’ she said.

Consequentially, older people were unaware of available support to them. As well as signposting to local services, Silverline will provide a befriending service.

‘The vision is that we ask a few diagnostic questions such as "If this helpline was not here, would you have got this information somewhere else?"

‘And if we get the feeling that the caller is isolated then we’d say that we have some Silverline friends that they might like to meet,’ she said.

There would be a deliberate avoidance of the term befriending, said Ms Rantzen. ‘It’s slightly insulting,’ she said. ‘People make friends but victims are befriended.’

The Silverline friends would all be volunteers. Ms Rantzen added that she hoped Silverline would bring about positive health outcomes by alleviating loneliness such as reducing depression.

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